Earlier this week, the United States Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources held a hearing on wide-ranging issues related to blockchain in the energy sector. From the energy consumption of Bitcoin mining to electricity grid and energy infrastructure cybersecurity to blockchain-based grid integration of renewable energy to government support for blockchain research and development efforts, the hearing covered a lot of fertile ground.
EWF managing director Claire Henly was one of five expert panelists who submitted testimony and offered opening remarks before fielding a number of questions from Senate Committee members. Her fellow panelists included:
– Paul Skare, chief cybersecurity and technical group manager at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL),
– Thomas Golden, technology innovation program manager at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI),
– Arvind Narayanan, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science at Princeton University, and
– Robert Kahn, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Corporation for National Research Institutes and co-inventor of the Internet’s TCP/IP protocol
The fact that the U.S. Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee had both a) convened a hearing on the topic of blockchain in the energy sector and b) assembled such a panel for the event were together encouraging signs that governments are taking a serious look at blockchain technology and its potential industry applications.
Henly’s testimony on behalf of EWF focused on three main points:
1. Today’s leading blockchains are evolving away from the kinds of energy-intensive consensus protocols often associated with Bitcoin mining in favor of far-more-efficient alternatives. For example, the Proof-of-Authority consensus used by the Energy Web Chain uses orders of magnitude less electricity than Bitcoin’s Proof-of-Work consensus, “leading to consumption on the scale of a small office building, instead of a small country,” noted Henly.
2. Blockchain technology offers novel functionality that—if known barriers are successfully addressed—has the potential to transform energy markets, including making the U.S. electricity grid more secure, with better efficiency and lower costs. “Blockchain has become more than Bitcoin,” explained Henly. “Subsequent innovations in blockchain have added the ability to execute code, turning the distributed ledger into a distributed computer.” That distributed computer has big potential implications for the U.S. energy sector, including a grid that’s no longer centrally controlled and excessively vulnerable to cyberattack as well as energy markets stripped of burdens such as excessive broker fees and where small players such as households can be accurately compensated, for just two examples.
3. The U.S. is lagging behind both Europe and Asia when it comes to advancing blockchain research and development. “The global hub for blockchain is not in San Francisco, as you might expect, but in Berlin,” Henly told the senators. Early U.S. Department of Energy funding to explore blockchain’s cybersecurity benefits is a good start, but more government funding is needed.
Henly’s official, submitted testimony can be downloaded in full from the Senate website here.
But perhaps most telling was how publications such as NextGov, which focuses on technology and innovation among government agencies, and MeriTalk, which focuses on government information technology, also covered the hearing. It’s a good sign that government agencies—in this case the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources—are taking blockchain technology seriously as the real, promising tech that it is. For our part, Henly and the Energy Web Foundation are proud to be one of the trusted voices advancing that discussion.